The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights state that both government and business are responsible for ensuring that human rights are respected in the workplace. The guiding principles break down which responsibilities fall to the government and which responsibilities fall to businesses, with three guiding pillars.


The “State Duty To Protect” pillar calls on governments to set and enforce the bottom line on human rights for all of society in general, including businesses.



The “Corporate Responsibility To Respect” pillar calls on all businesses to respect all internationally recognized human rights. It also calls on businesses to be proactive. This entails businesses taking preventative measures against abuse, looking for abuse within their own operations as well as their suppliers, and addressing abuse properly if found.

Businesses are expected to do this by:

Enacting policies to respect the rights of workers

Being proactive and continuously monitoring their human rights impacts

Taking action when human rights are infringed upon

Disclosing what their business is doing to protect the rights of workers

A great example of a corporate response plan to state legislation is adidas’s response to the UK Modern Slavery Act.



 While states are expected to have judicial systems that are equipped to handle human rights abuses, businesses are expected to be the first line of defense and have systems in place to address and respond to grievances. The Introduction to the Guiding Principles states that grievance systems must be “legitimate, accessible, predictable, equitable, transparent, and rights-compatible.” This means that the grievance systems fully intend to rectify abuses and actively work to do so, in order to compensate the victim and create lasting human rights improvements in their business.


How can WPO help my business meet the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights?

WPO can help your business be proactive by implementing programs that help prevent potential problems and are effective in finding solutions for problems that have already surfaced. Some of our products and services include:

Labor Line, our customizable third-party hotline service that anonymously collects employee grievances and concerns

• Worker surveys, distributed to your entire workforce, on topics like engagement, workers’ rights, wellbeing—or work with us to create your own.

Grievance systems and other compliance mechanisms

We can also help you go beyond what’s required and proactively provide services that improve the wellbeing of your supply chain workers.

WOVO, our newest mobile phone tool, provides two-way anonymous communication between management and employees, worker surveys, corporate broadcast messaging, e-learning modules, digitized pay slips, and more, to go beyond compliance and engage workers. Having highly engaged workers will increase employee retention, overall productivity, and employee wellness.

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights outline how state and corporate actors can divide and conquer. When state and corporate actors work together in compliance with the guidelines, the fundamental rights of workers are safeguarded and sustainable supply chains are created.

For further reading on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, see:

Guiding Principles in full

Introduction to Guiding Principles

Shift Project on the Guiding Principles



adidas (UK) Limited. (2017, August 6). Modern Slavery Act transparency statement. Retrieved August 22, 2018, from https://www.adidas-group.com/media/filer_public/63/34/633404c4-1a28-4a04-a6cd-e277c7fe55ff/modern_slavery_act_transparency_statement_adidas_uk_2016.pdf

Baldoni, John. (2013, July 4). Employee engagement does more than boost productivity. Retrieved August 21, 2018, from https://hbr.org/2013/07/employee-engagement-does-more

Shift. (n.d.). UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. https://www.shiftproject.org/un-guiding-principles/

Tapiola, K. (2018). The teeth of the ILO: The impact of the 1998 ILO Declaration on Fundamentals Principles and Rights at Work. Retrieved August 21, 2018, from http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—ed_norm/—ipec/documents/publication/wcms_632348.pdf

UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner. (2011.). Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations “protect, respect and remedy” framework. Retrieved August 21, 2018, from https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/GuidingPrinciplesBusinessHR_EN.pdf

UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights. (n.d.). The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: An introduction. Retrieved August 21, 2018, from https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Business/Intro_Guiding_PrinciplesBusinessHR.pdf